Gan (1953)

9 02 2008

Otama has never had good relationships with men, and ironically enough, she must marry one in order to financially support her family. She is introduced to Suezo, who tells her that he is a widowed merchant. This a lie, though. He is actually an already married moneylender who thinks of Otama as a mistress.

Not a particularly noteworthy film, but still, fairly decent. The main appeal here has to be Hadeko Takamine, who is as captivating as ever. The script forces a few too many dramatic coincidences which does sort of downplay her subtle greatness. The dubbed VHS source doesn’t help either. Still, she feels right at home here. A feminist drama (of sorts) where money becomes the downfall of many – sound familiar? That aside, she is quite wonderful, but I don’t think I could recommend this to someone as their first exposure to her. The melodrama is most likely not her fault, but the script’s.

Yes, you could say this is sort of a wannabe-Naruse but it does have some unique merits. The most obvious case being the fairly liberal, but well-executed use of tracking shots and wide-angle lenses. This isn’t eye-opening innovation but considering the shape the print is in, it looks quite great. On the other end of the (technical) spectrum, the music is very, very bad. It may very well have been added in by the American distributors. Same goes for the random voice over that occasionally provides unneeded exposition.

Despite my seemingly indifferent attitude towards the film, I did enjoy it a great deal. There’s some universal film-making conventions of the 1950s that drag it down, but I’d say it’s miles above it’s melodramatic brethren to the West. As of now, Shiro Toyoda’s films are quite hard to find. Guess we’ll (or I’ll) just have to keep our fingers crossed that someone like MoC will release a few of his films. I definitely would like to see more.

Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

9 02 2008

One of the few remaining films made by Sadao Yamanaka is a comedic approach to the “Tange Sazen” (one eyed, one-armed samurai) folklore. It’s a bit unsettling to find out that the genius behind the great humanistic drama, Humanity and Paper Balloons was the same guy who would do what sounds like a conventional comedy type film. Thankfully, Pot Worth a Million Ryo is anything but conventional, Yamanaka is able to filter film through his own viewpoint and the result is a masterpiece. Remarkable on every level, but even more remarkable considering how doomed it would be in anyone else’s hands.

A samurai lord gives away a very old pot as a wedding “present” for his younger brother, only to find out the pot actually contains information on the whereabouts of a golden treasure. Unaware of it’s value, the younger brother’s wife sells the pot to the junk collectors. The younger brother discovers the value of the pot and uses it as an excuse to escape from the house and/or pressures he is facing in his marriage. Through a series of far-fetched coincidences, the pot lands up in the hands of Tange Sazen who has adopted a orphan who uses the pot as a fishbowl.

Don’t let the plot synopsis fool you, while there is plenty of silly hijinks, there’s also a lot of subtle humor going on underneath. By this point, Yamanaka had already perfected his style (well, at least as he would in his life) and he could begin to focusing on meshing all “genre” conventions into something completely unique. Early on in the film, the pot is passed from person to person, in a sequence that predates a similar structure featured in more canonized classics like The Phantom of Liberty and L’Argent.

As mentioned before, the film is a bit more dark than it’s film noir-comedy vibe would have you believe. Once again Yamanaka is depicting the ahem, “lower class.” There’s actually a lot of very cynical deadpan humor interwoven into the more superficial comedy. The social content understandably dates the film somewhat but it never becomes particularly overbearing, a problem plaguing many modern film-makers. Just as equal important, is the relationship between Tange Sazen and his geisha (?) wife. Together they create moments that can range from tender to plain silly. It sounds corny, but their constant bickering eventually brings their makeshift family (complimented by the orphan boy) closer together.